St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) shows us how to love and honor God as Father in perfectly childlike, though not childish ways. Thérèse boldly sought Pope Leo XIII’s permission, face-to-face, to enter the Carmelite Order at the young age of fifteen. The pope deferred to the judgment of her local superiors, and Thérèse soon received the consent of her bishop and the prioress. She entered the cloistered Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, France, on April 9, 1888, which because of the timing of Lent, would be Annunciation Day that year.
There, for the next nine years, behind the cloister walls, the pious teen would flower into one of our modern day’s greatest saints and the third female Doctor of the Church, joining such giants as Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Through her writings, including the autobiographical Story of a Soul and the writings and recollections of others who knew her well, including her biological sisters who were also sisters in Christ at the monastery with her, Thérèse has shown us how the heavenly Father has provided such graces to us all, that each of us, regardless of how insignificant our role in life may seem, may serve and love God in glorious ways
- by the very simplest of our pious thoughts, menial chores, small acts of kindness
- by our acts of patience when we are put upon by others
- by enduring whatever sufferings might come our way
In one of her prayers, Thérèse, known as the Little Flower, calls these simple things flowers that she “throws” to God: “Throwing flowers means offering You, as first fruits, the least sighs, the deepest woes, my joys and my sorrows, my little sacrifices.”
Thérèse’s way is childlike in that it bespeaks total trust in, honor toward, and love for God as a loving Father with Jesus as our Brother. Thérèse had a special affection for the Christ Child and took the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus, but her spirituality was also very mature. Early in her religious life, she was given permission to add “and of the Holy Face” to her religious title. This was a popular devotion at the time, and Thérèse was particularly taken by the image of Christ in His humanity and the great suffering He would endure as described in Isaiah 53:1–5 and 63:1–5.
As she honored God as Father and Christ as Brother, Thérèse also had the most pious devotion to the Blessed Virgin as Mother. She emphasized how Mary glorified God in the simplest acts of her daily life, being more a mother than a queen, and Thérèse provided the fascinating insight that, in one way, we are more fortunate than Mary was since she did not have a Blessed Virgin to love!
Thérèse can inspire us all to reach a higher state of piety, and this more modern saint has even provided a metaphor of spiritual growth that updates our spiritual ladder. Indeed, she declared that rather than climbing the mystical Mount Carmel, she needed to take God’s elevator!
And what a fitting metaphor that is for spiritual growth through the gifts. We don’t rise merely from our own efforts, but by allowing God to lift us as a father does a child.
St. Thérèse died before the age of twenty-five. She suffered many months from tuberculosis and had some dark nights of doubt and of pain. On the night of September 30, 1897, clutching a crucifix, she cried out, “Oh! I love Him! . . . My God . . . I love you!” and her soul ascended to meet Him.
St. Thérèse’s feast day is October 1.
St. Thérèse, pray for us, so that we, through our own little ways, may honor God as our Father, Mary as our Mother, Christ as our Brother, and the Communion of Saints and all of our neighbors as our brothers and sisters.